“I don’t want to be two burgers and a milkshake.”

It’s the sentence that Barb Ellison carries with her everyday. Two burgers and a milkshake was the last meal her brother had before he had a heart attack and died.

Walking into the Ellison home, the calm shades of brown covered the walls, floors and furniture.  Barb’s hair was dripping wet from a recent shower and her two dogs were running rampant throughout the house. An elliptical sat in the front room; bananas hung in the kitchen.

Ellison married her high school sweetheart, became a mother at the age of 18 — and of now four boys — and finally, a grandmother. She had a lot worth sticking around for.

She wanted to start her lifestyle change at the beginning of 2015 but never had the courage to set up — but on April 3, 2015 she began her workout program with her trainer and started her meal plan only two weeks later.

She contacted the daughter of an old friend, Felicia White, who is a personal trainer and was also making a lifestyle change.

Ellison and Felicia White, her former personal trainer, before the start of Moonlight Run in March of 2016. Photo courtesy of Felicia White.

Being a mom, she would always make healthy meals for her kids; but when the meals were done, she would finish everything instead of wasting the food. There would be nights where junk food covered the living room.

“We come from good incomes, great lifestyle, all have beautiful homes, we all have lots of vehicles . . . you just kind of lose sight of what’s really important,” says Ellison.

Her family never had any health issues, no medical shake-ups. Her doctor told her that if she didn’t look in a mirror, she would have never known that she was overweight.

“We were pretty lucky until last year when we were hit — and hit hard,” says Ellison. “I feel that we all needed a kick in the ass to really appreciate what we had.”

On July 3, 2014, her father had suffered a massive heart attack. After flatlining, he was brought back and stayed at a hospital in Calgary for two weeks.

“In all honesty, my dad’s heart attack was blessing,” says Ellison. “He made it through and my brother and sister and I got to spent three weeks together, just the three of us. It was the first time the three of us have been together in years.”

(Left to right) Siblings Tracy McClain, Rick Beadle and Ellison in 2010 at Ellison’s son’s wedding. Photo courtesy of Barb Ellison.

Just 59 days after her father had his heart attack, her brother, Rick Beadle, suffered one as well.  After trying to resuscitate him for 72 minutes, he was declared brain dead.

Her family tried everything they could to wake him up.

“Like every time he beat me and my sister up when we were kids; we paid him back. We played with his eyelashes, we yelled at him, we screamed,” says Ellison.

They took him off life support on Sept. 11, 2014.

“It was tough. I think that was the worst time of my life,” says Ellison.

She says she believes Beadle is still here in spirit.

“My brother was about 5-5 and 300 pounds and after he died we had a Steller’s jay that would knock on my door everyday for three weeks. Everyday we would put peanuts out. That Steller’s jay was short and fat, shorter and fatter than the other Steller’s jays. And that bird only comes around in September. We don’t see him year long, he only comes for a two-week window in September.”

“I never had an issue with my size — I thought I looked great — but after my brother passed away, it really makes you think, like wow, make I should change,” said Ellison.

Ellison at the top of Bear’s Hump Hike in Waterton National Park. Photo courtesy of Barb Ellison.

Her nutrition coach, Gen Holfman, says, “The dedication that she has is inspiring.”

Ellison checks in with Holfman on a weekly basis to discuss her physical and mental health. She makes sure she understands what she can do in different situations.

“She wants to become a healthier and happier person,” says Holfman.

When Barb first started her workouts, they were terrible. She drove around town for an hour before making her way into the gym. Her weights lasted ten minutes and used the elliptical for ten; after that she went home and threw up.

Her workouts have very much changed since then.

“Barb is more confident and excited to share her progress on her journey. Although, it is physically obvious, she looks great,” says her childhood friend Lydia Petrich-Syryca.

Her day starts at 4 a.m. “It’s a time when I can go and I can have my own space,” says Ellison. She has about a two-hour workout.

“I’ve been inspired by her,” says Holfman.

Recently Ellison set herself a goal — one that would push her physically and mentally. She signed up for the 6-kilometer Moonlight Run in Lethbridge, Alta.  She wanted to run the whole race without stopping.

“Her goal was not to stop and she achieved that,” says Holfman.

Ellison just before the Moonlight Run was about to begin. Photo courtesy of Felicia White.

Barb experiences anxiety in large crowds and so she works out when no one is at the gym. Pushing herself to be vulnerable and work towards a goal was something that was inspiring to others.

“It’s the best moment I’ve had so far. It was the first time I ran in public and I think I did it in great time. I never thought when I started a year ago that I would be doing the Moonlight Run. Before, I couldn’t walk a block without being out of breathe and now I ran six kilometers,” Ellison smiled.

“She gives you the confidence. If she can do it, I can do it, so hopefully I can draw from her positive energy to get healthy too,” says Petrich-Syryca.

“It’s been a wild ride these last couple of years,” says Ellison. “I don’t want to die and if I can prevent dying at a young age then I that’s what I want to do.”

cpaton@cjournal.ca

Editor: Sarah Allen | sallen@cjournal.ca